Weaver's Week 2007-01-28

Weaver's Week Index

'Iain Weaver reviews the latest happenings in UK Game Show Land.'


Bread and Circuses

In a lead review postponed from last week, we present:

Fortune: Million Pound Giveaway

Fever Media for ITV, 8pm Tuesday

Late last year, ITV made Duncan Bannatyne an offer he couldn't refuse. The hard-nosed businessman was offered a large wodge of cash to defect from the BBC's remarkably successful Dragons' Den programme, and make his home on the oldest commercial channel. Thanks to a slight cock-up in the ITV Contracts department, the hard-nosed businessman wasn't signed to be the company's chairman, but has to appear on lots of programmes. This is one of them.

On this programme, Bannatyne is joined by four other very rich people. Simon Jordan is the chairman of the Crystal Palace football club; Jacqueline Gold runs a chain of underwear shops; Kanya King founded the Music of Black Origin awards; and Jeffrey Archer is a liar. Between them, the five have put up one million pounds, cash, and will decide which of the good causes they're presented should benefit from their largesse. It is not clear how large are the appearance fees of the panellists, whether these have been thrown into the pot in addition to a smaller amount of existing money, or whether each person has contributed an equal amount.

We can, perhaps, think of this programme as the exact antithesis of Without Prejudice?, where Liza and her panel were able to probe into the personality but could not ask what the winner would do with the money. Here, the form is for one or more people to roll up on stage, request a specific amount, make their one-minute pitch explaining exactly what they'll do with the moolah, and be cross-questioned on this by the panel. A lack of planning will ensure the deal is off, but someone who has attempted to turn their life around will have the support of at least one member of the panel.

The show's nominal host, Richard Madeley, has very little to do; provide a few words in the voice-off booth, congratulate or commiserate with some of the people appearing on stage, and tell us to stick around for more.

Done properly - and see Channel 4's Secret Millionaires for an example - this could be an entertaining and inspiring format. Instead, it comes across as feeling rather grubby and demeaning, and we're only watching the show. Asking for money from a convicted criminal and a sex worker is unsettling enough; presenting this as prime-time entertainment has a certain whiff of bread and circuses about it. There are enough light items - the man who wants to perform a stunt involving an oversized burning toilet he'll carry around on a converted fire truck, or the song for the football world cup that is amongst the worst ever scribbled on the back of a beer-mat - to distract.

But too often, we're left with an image of the "fortune five" sitting at the top table, throwing out some scraps to the more deserving plebs, while laughing at the audacity of others. That's just wrong. A church that has a magnificent painting and wants £20,000 for new toilets is asked, "Why don't you charge for admission?" Because it is morally wrong, that's why they don't charge. These people have morals, and act upon them. The fat cats who sit in judgement on their peers - well, we know that at least 20% of the panel is a habitual liar.

ITV could have used this format as a base camp for a deeper exploration of social policy in modern Britain. Why, for instance, is it necessary for a highly-intelligent child to beg for private school fees, when we pay taxes so that the state system can do this sort of thing? ITV could explore social policy, but even the roundly panned Monarchy: The Nation Decides of ten years ago represents an Olympian height that the channel will never again scale. Even Channel 4's bread-and-circuses show is capable of exploring complex social matters, as we discussed last week.

Instead, it's another game show displaying that British society in general, and ITV in particular, knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Battle Of The Nation

The second series of Just the Two of Us went out from 2 to 7 January. Though marred by the late withdrawal of Russell Watson, the shows were remarkably entertaining, all the more so for being almost completely undemanding. We growled at the show last year for incorporating a singularly rubbish elimination metric, whereby the 48 million potential viewers in England had less say over who left the contest than the 12 million elsewhere in the country. Instead, a combination of judges' marks and viewer vote left three couples in danger; one of the judges (picked by the producers) saved one couple, and lines re-opened for the other two. A trifle more complex, but Ben Bernanke and Tess Daly made it look simple.

Your Country Needs You! (13 January) couldn't be accused of appearing simple. A combination of 100%-style multiple choice questions, fingers-on-buzzers rounds, viewer's questions, and the ability to choose your opponents led to a programme that was probably best appreciated after a few drinks. Certainly, the programme had a feel of a huge pub quiz, and wasn't helped by Patrick Kielty's very moderate performance in the host's chair. It did expose the latent tension between England and the other constituent parts of the Union; while Sian Lloyd (Wales) and Zoe Salmon (Northern Ireland) were choosing each other and the hapless Scotland team, Myleene Klass (England, and appearing on her third quiz-ish entertainment in as many weeks) thought, "It's only a game!" England still won, defeating Northern Ireland on a tie-break based on the viewer questions.

Junior Mastermind

Heat 3

Callum from Leicestershire is first into the Big Black Chair tonight. His specialist subject is Take That, another popular music group. No questions about the recent revival, but we do find the path from this group to the Interceptor theme. It's a big Take That to his opposition, Callum scores 14 (1), a full 40% better than this column.

Ethan from Middlesex takes The Redwall Tales by Brian Jacques. We don't know enough about this subject to play along, but we do know enough to spot a great performance - it finishes with 16 (2).

Neave from Nottingham will discuss Dr Barnardo. It's a good start, but a little descent into the Valley of Pass - 11 (8) is her final score.

Lastly, Patrick from Sussex has the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It's no wonder to see another great contestant, finishing on 11 (3).

Neave refers to the goodness of Dr Barnardo, whose overall contribution was far more positive than the brief discussion allows. Typical Smallhead, seeking controversy rather than seeing the big picture. Another solid round, and 25 (13) is a challenging score.

Patrick, unlike the host, won't have seen more than one of the Wonders in their original positions; indeed, he casts doubt on the very existence of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. He finishes on 25 (5), taking the lead on fewer passes.

Take That split up before Callum was born. We'll be off collecting our pensions, then. Callum wants to be a pop star, though his mother wants him to be a doctor. He rattles through his questions, and finishes on 30 (2).

Ethan's Tales are about a group of animals who live in mediaeval times, and have adventures. We're going to be very polite, for Ethan is a blue belt at karate. He has the misfortune to take a couple of long questions, including a plug for BBC7's children's output, and finishes on 29 (5).

University Challenge

Round 2: Merton Oxford v Aberystwyth

Both Merton and Aber won games against sides that went into the repechage - Merton against Bristol, Aberystwyth against the winners Manchester. There's no particular advantage in the early exchanges, but nor is there exactly evidence of the previous free-scoring. The first visual round is on characters from horror films, by which time Aber is ahead, 75-10. We'll take Short Starter of the Week:

Q: DVDs with region code 6 are designed to be played in which country?

There's a nod for Alan Clark's diaries (the publication that did include Derek Laud from BB6), and Serendipity of the Week

Q: What is the only line of latitude that is also a great circle?
Merton, Andrew Wells: 90 degrees?
Aberystwyth, Josephine Nevill: 0 degrees?
Thumper: 0 degrees is correct, the equator.

The audio round is a Classic FM selection of French work, and Aberystwyth's lead is up to 130-40. This brings us to Bouncer of the Week:

Q: The term "paparazzi" is derived from the name of a character played by Walter Santesso...
Merton, Krishna Omkar: La Dolce Vita.

Never thought we'd get a question asking after captains on A Question of Sport, nor a starter asking for the acronym behind LASER. Merton has had a good stanza; by the second visual round, on drainage systems, Aber's lead is down to 130-100. One answer is "deranged, like the question."

Merton are trying hard, but Aberystwyth has done enough earlier in the game to keep ahead; they're helped by some correct speculative buzzes, while Merton's attempts to play the bouncers have mostly been penalised. Aber also gets to answer the question about the planets with the inevitable invocation of "Uranus".

Thumper is quite flagrantly exceeding the speed limit, going at something like 200 syllables per minute; Merton pulls back to within 25, then cuts the gap to just ten points. Just as Merton buzzes on the next starter, the gong goes. Thumper will not ask for the answer, and Aberystwyth has pulled off a close win, 180-170.

In a game where everyone got at least one starter, the top scorer was Aberystwyth's captain Josephine Nevill, five starters and 73 points. For Merton, Scott Collier also took five starters, but one missignal, and 66 points. Merton made 14/33 bonuses with two incorrect buzzes, Aber 16/30.

Next match: Durham v Somerville Oxford

This Week And Next

A sensible report from the Commons Media Select Committee into call-and-lose channels. "We believe that call TV quiz shows generally look and feel like gambling, whether or not they will fall within the definition gambling under the act. It seems to us that they should constitute gaming under the act, and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and the Gambling Commission should consider this as a matter of urgency."

A web entry route, according to the committee, isn't enough to get round this. "We do not see why, just because a free entry route might exist, those who pay a premium rate to enter a game in which the first element is entirely one of chance are doing anything other than gambling."

The report fell short of demanding that these games be classed as lotteries; this matter will be addressed by the Gambling Commission when it starts work later in the year.

Channel 4 had defended Big Brother, which ends its series as scheduled tonight. Board chairman Luke Johnson announced a review of the compliance and editorial processes surrounding the show. The final total of complaints to OFCOM is believed to be around 42,000, with around 3000 complaints made directly to C4. OFCOM has also been taking complaints about the new series of Shipwrecked, with a "mere" 600 people complaining about the ill-informed comments of one contestant. This column was going to see the show before commenting, but found that the show vanished from Channel 4's video-on-demand service between Monday and Thursday. The Saturday morning repeat was also pulled.

Whether C4 will be giving Big Brother the same treatment remains to be seen. A production blunder on Wednesday caused a whole day's votes to be thrown out, after a caption read "Vote to save", rather than "Vote to evict." Viewers have had their costs refunded, and the channel has pledged to give all the profits to charity. Premium-rate telephone watchdog ICSTIS is looking into the matter.

At the "Broadcast" magazine awards this week, the best entertainment programme award went to the BBC's How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? The daytime award had a certain inevitability, going to Deal or No Deal, which appears to have become passé in the three weeks since it gave away its top prize. An award for international sales went to the Beeb for Strictly Come Dancing.

The BBC will be making a contest about learning magic and illusion. The Sorcerer's Apprentice will pretend not to be a Potter-clone, and is to be hosted by Barney Harwood. If it's a straight choice between this and another series of Raven The Island, the Beeb may have made the right call.

BARB ratings for the week to 14 January saw Soapstar Superstar rise to the top of the pile, taking 7.15m viewers on Saturday evening. How much of that was inheritance from a Harry Potter movie is debatable. The return of One Versus One Hundred took 6.35m, with Question of Sport taking bronze with 4.9m. BBC1's Saturday night pub quiz also had 4.9m, and beat Celeb Big Brother when it was boring (4.5m).

Winning the quarter-million hasn't helped Deal or No Deal - 4.05m is the week's top score, declining to barely 3m on Sunday. Weakest Link took 3.2m, University Challenge 3.15m, Mock the Week 2.4m, and Ready Steady Cook 1.75m.

The Deal or No Deal decline is most notable on More4 - 285,000 saw the Tuesday repeat, but the last three new episodes of the week had fewer than 190,000 viewers and failed to make the channel's top ten. Soapstar Superstar Bonus Tracks had 445,000 on ITV2, CBBC's Clutter Nutters had 245,000. On G2, QI scored 160,000, and Buzzcocks 125,000. Challenge's top score was just 57,000 for a Millionaire on Sunday lunchtime. A measure of how dull this year's Celeb BB was shaping up to be: none of its many hours of transmissions wormed their way into the E4 top ten.

Next week includes another chance to miss Challenge Anneka (ITV, 4.35 today), WAGs Boutique (ITV2, 9pm Tuesday; to be repeated on ITV next week), and the return of Never Mind the Buzzcocks (BBC2, 10pm Wednesday).

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